In 2010, Great Britain’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs met to rank 20 substances. Using 16 criteria, they sought to separate myth from reality for lawmakers. However, their conclusions were so controversial that previously, when the senior drug advisor to the British government had expressed a similar opinion, he was “sacked.”
You can see, below, that on the harm scale, alcohol and tobacco got higher scores than some illegal drugs.
In this chart, the 16 criteria on which the drugs’ scores were based are divided between harm to users and harm to others. The harm to others section is a perfect example of negative externalities.
From Great Britain, I wanted to leap to U.S. states that appear to be ignoring marijuana’s relatively low negative externalities.
Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado for having legalized marijuana. Although the reason is the pot spillover, the rationale is the U.S. Constitution. In 2012, the Supreme Court validated the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) through Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. Because the CSA prohibits marijuana possession, production and distribution, Colorado is conflicting with federal law. According to the U.S. Constitution, when states conflict with federal law, the federal law is supreme.
Our Bottom Line: Negative Externalities
And all of this returns us to the drug harmfulness scale. Whenever government miscalculates the cost of the negative externalities it is trying to mitigate, then we are wasting land, labor and capital.